Deadlines "R" Us

It was an agreement drawn up between the Bush Administration and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki: the deadline for American combat troops to be out of Iraq would be the end of August 2010.

Further to the east, another deadline was inserted dialectically into President Obama's second 30,000-troop surge in Afghanistan (probably this was the work of some political head at the White House, possibly the VP and/or President Obama himself): the deadline for beginning the American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan would be July 2011.

On the one hand, President Obama is adhering to a deadline in Iraq agreed to by his predecessor, and on the other he has set his own deadline for Afghanistan; in a certain way, the former deadline becomes associated with the latter deadline and acts as a "cover" for the latter ... which is to say, if American troops can be withdrawn from Iraq, why can they not also be withdrawn from Afghanistan?

Almost mechanically, therefore, these two deadlines have set the stage for eventually ending America's military involvement in these two Muslim states of Asia. Having given these deadlines the stamp of policy, they develop a sort of inexorability of their own, as if some omniscient force had taken charge, as if some higher power had taken over to save us from our follies.

All we have to do, therefore, is wait for these deadline to take effect. To paraphrase the old saw, "follow the money," it is this time "follow the deadlines."

Those who decried the late 2009 juxtaposition of surge and withdrawal as contradictory and naïve might give it a second thought. Perhaps it was not such a dumb idea after all.